New animal control boss in Albuquerque caught repeating the old boss’s errors
ALBUQUERQUE, LOS ANGELES––Los Angeles County Animal Control marked Dog Bite Prevention Week 2017, April 9-15, by moving decisively to try to ensure that only dogs deemed safe for adoption leave the county shelters.
Albuquerque Animal Welfare fumbled to explain why a staff vet tech was allowed to keep and take home a pit bull, misidentified as an Australian shepherd, after the pit bull repeatedly jumped a fence, killing a pet Chihuahua and terrorizing neighbors.
Media bashing in both cities
Both agencies took a media bashing for their actions––but Los Angeles County Animal Control also found influential defenders for taking a responsible position.
Albuquerque has been the bush leagues, Los Angeles the big leagues in the Dodgers’ farm system for as long (since 1963) as Bugs Bunny has been lamenting that if he had turned left at Albuquerque, he would not have found himself lost in Rancho Cucamonga.
The bush leagues differ from the big leagues chiefly in that big league audiences pay for the best and expect to get what they pay for. But either in Albuquerque or Los Angeles, the players are expected to follow the rules of the game. In Albuquerque those rules have for at least six years been repeatedly violated.
Old boss got the boot
A 38-page investigative report by the Albuquerque city inspector general in September 2015 confirmed that, in the report’s wording, “Dogs with problematic behavior were being released into the public,” including a pit bull who had severely injured a child, and that then-Animal Welfare Department director Barbara Bruin “was not forthcoming with all information relating to behaviorally unsafe dogs and those that pose a threat to the public and staff.”
Bruin was transferred to other duties at the end of October 2015, but attitudes and policies at Albuquerque Animal Welfare remained much the same, observed the Albuquerque Journal editorial board on April 3, 2017.
New boss “subverted or outright ignored” safety policies
“Apparently there’s some truth to that old maxim of not being able to teach an old dog new tricks,” the editorialists opened. “In 2015, three city investigations found that Animal Welfare had been adopting out dogs who had bitten or injured humans or killed other animals and potentially endangered public safety. And they found that volunteers and administrators had the ability to override professional staff decisions regarding euthanasia.
“Like his predecessor Barbara Bruin before him,” the Albuquerque Journal editorial continued, “new director Paul Caster,” who came to the job from a board stint with the Taos no-kill shelter Stray Hearts Animal Rescue & Education, “has ‘subverted or outright ignored’ policies regarding releasing animals to the public as well as euthanizing those determined by staff to be unadoptable, according to the most recent investigation into the department.”
Among the most egregious actions––or non-actions––under Caster was the Albuquerque Animal Welfare handling of the case involving veterinary assistant Ray Marquez’s pit bull, officially dubbed an “Australian shepherd,” named Aurora.
“A City of Albuquerque Animal Welfare employee will not be getting his dog back,” updated KRQE News 13 special assignment reporter Gabrielle Burkhart on April 10, 2017, three days after Burkhart exposed the multiple violations of the city dangerous dog ordinance that had for weeks worked to Marquez’ advantage.
“The dangerous dog will either be euthanized or go to a rescue,” Burkhart explained, “but cannot be adopted out,” though releasing the dog to a rescue which will then rehome the dog amounts to much the same thing.
“Marquez currently owns three other dogs,” Burkhart added. “The city now has a month to determine whether Marquez will be declared an ‘irresponsible owner.’ If he is found irresponsible, by law, the vet assistant would not be allowed to own any dogs for at least two years.”
Earlier, revealed Burkhart, “The day after his neighbor’s dog was killed, Marquez took his dog to the city shelter as an ‘owner surrender’ at the instruction of an Animal Welfare officer. But in direct violation of ‘Angel’s Law,’ the city’s own dangerous dog ordinance, Marquez was allowed to take Aurora home just a week later.”
According to Angel’s Law, “If the Department determines that a dog has mortally wounded a person or companion animal without provocation, the Department shall immediately seek to obtain a warrant from a court of competent jurisdiction to seize the dog or seize the dog with the consent of the owner. Such dog shall remain in the custody of the Department pending adjudication.”
Explained Burkhart, “Not only did the city let the dangerous dog go home, the dog stayed home for weeks,” leaping over fences several times to meet neighbors at their back doors.
“Despite Animal Welfare’s promises to get a warrant and take custody of Aurora,” Burkhart added, “records show the dangerous dog was home for more than a month. The dog only re-appeared at the city shelter on March 28, the day after KRQE News 13 called about the case.”
Not licensed, not vaccinated
More than just failing to observe Angel’s Law was out of order, Burkhart added: “Marquez told the field officer all four of his dogs in his home were current with city licenses and rabies vaccinations. The Animal Welfare officer later found none of the animals were current on rabies or city licenses, and cited Marquez for failing to do so.”
Presumably Albuquerque Animal Welfare is being more judicious in handling a pit bull impounded on April 8, 2017 from domestic violence suspect Anthony Blackshear.
Narrated Angel Gonzalez of KOAT, Channel 7, “According to a criminal complaint, officers were called to a domestic violence dispute. Officers say when they approached Blackshear he let his pit bull off his leash and took off on his bike. An officer was treated and evaluated at the scene for a dog bite on the wrist, and is expected to be okay.”
New policy in Los Angeles county
Meanwhile in Los Angeles County, Carson shelter deputy director of animal care Danny Ubario e-mailed to rescuers who “pull” dogs from the shelter “I wanted to take the time to inform you that effective immediately there will be some changes in the animals in which you have been notified. All animals who are deemed not safe for placement due to behavior will no longer be made available to rescues. You will not receive notifications on these animals, and animals who fall under this category will be euthanized after their holding period is up. You will continue to receive notifications on animals who are behaviorally sound and available. If you have any questions, please contact Allison Cardona, the new deputy director for the South County operations. I will still be available, but I encourage you to reach out to Allison for all of your concerns.”
Online petition & lawsuits
The Ubario memo within hours incited an online petition––reportedly posted by a third party in Littleton, Colorado––denouncing the amendments to policies which had previously allowed volunteers to “pull” high-risk dogs and rehome them to adopters who usually had little or no idea that the dogs had significant bite history.
The Los Angeles County shelters are not currently known to have released any dogs who went on to kill or disfigure humans, but has at least twice been sued for allegedly lax policies toward dangerous dogs after repeatedly failing to impound loose pit bulls in response to public complaints.
In the first case, dismissed in 2012 by the Second District Court of Appeals, three young Antelope Valley brothers were mauled by two pit bulls.
In the second case, apparently still before the courts, four pit bulls belonging to Alex Donald Jackson fatally mauled Palmdale resident Pamela Devitt, 63. Jackson was on October 3, 2014 sentenced to serve from 15 years to life in prison for Devitt’s death.
Caught by surprise
Amplifying the rescuers’ complaints, and posting a copy of the petition that viewers could download, KTLA News of Los Angeles “completely caught L.A. County Animal Care & Control by surprise,” wrote City Watch blogger Phyllis M. Daugherty.
Responded the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care & Control to the KTLA News report, in a written statement, “While we strive for adoption outcomes for all dogs, we also have a responsibility to public safety. In some cases, dogs who find their way to our animal care centers have a documented history of such aggressive tendencies that they pose a threat to public safety.
84% of dogs impounded are rehomed
“Eighty-four percent of the dogs who come into our Los Angeles County Animal Care are adopted to families or placed with our very valued adoption partners (rescues),” the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care & Control statement continued.
“However, because of our commitment to public safety,” which is in fact the reason why community animal care and control departments exist, “we will not place dogs—even with our adoption partners—when the dog has a documented history of aggressive behavior, or has exhibited a pattern of threatening or aggressive behavior while in our care.
“Our policy is limited to dogs whose documented history demonstrates a high likelihood that they will injure or kill another animal or attack a human,” the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care & Control statement qualified. “We do not take lightly the decision to euthanize a dog for behavioral reasons and are committed to taking that action only when the dog poses a very strong propensity to do harm if placed in a new home. We will continue to evaluate each dog as an individual, taking into consideration all available information including temperament test, documented history and behavior while in our care.
“We continue to collaborate with our adoption partners to place dogs with less serious behavior issues,” the statement finished, “such as those whose evaluation would suggest special placement that our adoption partners may have the resources to address.”
Ballplayers who fail to meet expectations in Los Angeles frequently find themselves demoted to Albuquerque. The amended Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care & Control policies are meant to ensure that the county stays in the big leagues when it comes to protecting public safety.